Winter Driving: How to Use Tire Chains

If you live in a place with winter weather, you’ve probably heard about snow chains. However, if you’re like most people, you probably haven’t had to install chains on your own tires. If you’re out in brutal winter conditions, it won’t hurt to know a thing or two about how snow chains can get you out of otherwise dangerous situations. Whether you need to commute through the snowy mountains or you’re heading north for some winter recreation, here’s some information on how to use tire chains to help you travel safely.


First of all, make sure you buy chains designed to fit on your tires. This is an important safety issue, as chains that are overly large or small will not only be ineffective, but dangerous. The wrong fit can damage your tires, which is the last thing you need while driving in snow and ice. Never install traction devices that aren’t meant for your vehicle.

The sidewall of your tire will show its height, width, and diameter. This information is important to make sure you get the right fit. The packaging of the chains will let you know whether they can accommodate your tires, but if there’s any doubt in your mind, ask for advice before you buy them.


Snow chains are meant for serious conditions. If you’re about to head out into inclement weather, this is not the occasion to put on snow chains for the first time. It’s important to practice beforehand, like in your garage or driveway. You need to know for certain whether the chains fit properly. Also, you want to be confident about your ability to install them correctly.

It’s also a good idea to get a feel for driving with chains on your tires in a controlled setting. Once you’re all done installing them, take them out on a snowy road in decent conditions. This way, your first time driving with tire chains won’t be in snowmageddon!


Let’s get into how to use tire chains for your vehicle. First, you need to determine where the chains belong. With a front-wheel-drive vehicle, the chains go on the front tires. Likewise, with a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, the chains go on the rear tires. If you have an all-wheel-drive vehicle, you should refer to your owner’s manual.

Lock your wheels in place with the parking brake. If you have to pull over to the side of the road, safely pull off as far as you can and turn on your hazard lights. The chains come with a set of instructions - you’ll want to have those on hand.

Take the first chain from its packaging and make sure to untangle it. A good way to do this is to lay the chains out on the ground and smooth them out. Pick up the chains and maintain the tangle-free shape as it hangs from your hands.

Next, place the chain over the top of the tire you’re starting with. Drape it evenly over the tire, centering the sidechains on top and getting the chain as close as possible to the bottom of the tire. Adjust the chain as needed, pulling it around so that it fits the tire evenly. Each side should have about the same amount of slack, which should be tightened around the part of the tire that is currently touching the road.

Repeat the steps above on the opposite side. Make sure to lay the fasteners out to the side so they don’t go under the tire in the next step. Once the chains are on, you can slowly move the car forward just enough to uncover the part of the tire that remains unchained.

Now you’re able to connect the fasteners. Start with the inner side (the sidechain that’s further under the vehicle) for each tire. Different chains have different fasteners, and some have design features that involve ringing the chain into the wheel. The instructions will provide more detail on your specific chains.

Once everything is fastened, tighten the chains to eliminate any slack. The sidechains should be as tight as possible, which may require a bungee cord. Again, this is something your instructions will clarify. When the fit is as tight as can be, you’re good to go!

If you’re still feeling unclear on how the chains should look to you at each step of the process, here’s a video of someone installing tire chains for a visual guide.

Removing the Chains

The simplest part of knowing how to use tire chains is how to remove them. After you pull over somewhere safe, unhook the bungee or undo the fasteners on the insides to get your chains loose and ready for removal. Lay them out around the tire as smooth as you can before driving forward. Then you’re all set to pick them up and put them away (though make sure they’re untangled and fairly dry before you stow them).

Knowing How to Use Tire Chains Before you Need Them

Driving in the snow is a part of life we have to get used to in the Washington area. Sometimes conditions are bad enough that staying home is the way to go. Other times, the right amount of preparation will have you ready to take on the elements and get where you need to be.

Tire chains are a great resource to know about and have on hand when the weather outside is frightful - just make sure you know how to use tire chains before you need them!